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Homeless Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh face hard times

March 7, 2015

A month after eviction, thousands who were uprooted to make way for tourism are yet to receive aid

 

Stephan Uttom, Dhaka | UCANews

 

Rohingya refugees at the Shamlapur informal camp in June last year (Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario)

 

More than a month after being evicted from their makeshift camps, tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims in Cox’s Bazar district in southeastern Bangladesh are struggling to make ends meet as promised aid has yet to materialize and housing is nonexistent.

 

The majority of the 35,000 unregistered refugees, who were forced out of their squalid homes in Shamlapur fishing village on February 4, have been living rough. A lucky few have taken shelter in nearby schools, while some have moved into their relatives’ homes at other informal settlements in the Cox’s Bazar area.

 

Khaleda Akter, 34, a mother of three, has found shelter at a local school.

 

“Fifteen men and women including their children are living here, because we have nowhere to go. Most men rely on day labor and fishing for a living and some women work as housemaids like me,” she said.

 

Khaleda is the lone breadwinner for the family. Her husband drowned while trying to travel to Malaysia illegally for work.

 

The refugees had lived in the area since the 1990s, occupying dilapidated houses and relying on fishing for their livelihood. All had fled sectarian violence in their native Rakhine state, in Myanmar, just across the border.

 

Officials said the eviction was part of a policy to reclaim the area from illegal encroachers along Marine Drive Road, which runs through the country’s most popular tourist destination.

 

The government will offer aid to the evicted people soon, said Shah Mozahiduddin, chief government officer at Teknaf sub-district in Cox’s Bazar.

 

“Among the evicted people, there are some Bengalis as well. Once we get the order from the higher authorities, all will receive aid,” he said.

 

Though Rohingyas have lived in Myanmar for generations, the government considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and has resisted offering them citizenship. Those who have fled across the border to escape persecution are equally unwelcome in Bangladesh.

 

Since 1978, hundreds of thousands have fled, many to Cox’s Bazar district where around 30,000 Rohingyas reside in two official camps, relying on government and NGO aid for survival. As many as 300,000 reside in unofficial makeshift camps, where they face strict restrictions on movements and are frequently exploited for cheap labor.

 

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in November said the government was planning to relocate Rohingya refugees to a “better place” from their camps in Cox’s Bazar district. Details as to where that “better place” is have yet to be released.

 

“We have had several meetings over the relocation of registered refugees. No concrete decision has been taken yet and there is no specific deadline for it,” said Farid Ahmed Bhuiyan, Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner of the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry.